[Guest Blogger Streebo continues his review of Black Summer. For more posts by Streebo, click his name in the right toolbar. The "2" in the title refers to the number of posts, not issues of Black Summer.]
The next installment, issue one, begins with Tom Noir – the broken down ex-superhero. We follow him as he survives an attack from black op federal agents – namely the previously unknown and pronounced dead member of the Seven Guns – Frank Blacksmith. This entire issue details Tom Noir's plight as he is the first to feel the backlash from John Horus' actions. I was extremely disappointed by this decision to ignore our shining new superhero of silver in order to follow a one-legged, unshaven, non-costumed, alcoholic ex-superhero whose only accessory seems to be an assortment of ashtrays filled to the brim with what appears to be one million cigarette butts. With his lack of a costume, admitted alcoholism, and an apparent crippled state, Tom Noir seems to embody Ellis' widely known cynical distaste for superheroes. There is enough action in the fight between Noir and the agents to make it entertaining – but it is hardly groundbreaking. As in the debut issue, there are flashbacks showing the genesis of the Seven Guns, filled with enough tech-speak to keep things interesting. Through these flashbacks, Ellis shows us a potential future filled with shining superhero possibilities, but whenever the narrative returns to the present, he only shows us the ashes of those same dreams.
The one moment in which we see John Horus in this issue really irritates me. Horus appears long enough to talk to Tom Noir via an implanted communication device connecting the Seven Guns. What bothers me is this statement delivered by Horus from the top of the Empire State Building before he quietly disappears from the series again:
“You're supposed to be screaming and pointing at the Big Bad thing on top of the Empire State Building. And then sending fighter planes to shoot me down. You people just don't try anymore.”
Then, John Horus flies away. No fights. No speeches. No superheroics. He just leaves. I don't know if Warren Ellis is reflexively referring to the superhero event stories currently populating the comic shelves courtesy of the Big Two – or if he is being irritatingly ironic in admitting that he is not going to try anything new or exciting with this fantastic concept at his command. Issue one ends with the appearance of Zoe, the speedster of the Seven Guns, at Tom Noir's doorstep. She delivers an ominous warning that “John Horus is insane because all of the original team are insane.”
On a somewhat related side note, at the Heroes Convention in 2006, I actually asked Mr. Ellis about his feelings on superheroes and how he could despise them – yet create moments of such wonder in the pages of Planetary. He did his best to avoid answering but did reply that superheroes had always contained such wonders and we just needed to look for them. I like to speculate that his widely publicized contempt for the genre is not directed at superheroes per se – but is instead directed at the exploitive use of populist superheroes at Marvel and DC. That said – why he would seemingly take lightning in a bottle with the concept of John Horus and bury it underneath a stump only to place a cynical, broken down and outright boring non-superhero Tom Noir on top of it is beyond me.
The third issue of Black Summer, issue two, finally brings the Seven Guns to the fore. We finally get to see some four-colored superhero action as we meet the rest of the Seven Guns super team. Names like Angel One, Kathryn Artemis, and Dominic Atlas Hyde excite me at the as yet untapped potential of superhero actions. This issue is almost entirely dedicated to the plight of the Seven Guns as they work together to remove Tom Noir from harm's way and deliver him to a safe house. We get some fun superhero bits as Kathryn Artemis is forced to defend herself in the streets from a troop of US Army soldiers. Angel One must take lethal action as well when confronted with lethal force from military helicopters. Decisions are made in the interest of self-preservation that result in the Seven Guns becoming seemingly more complicit with John Horus' actions. Finally by the end of the issue, the team has made it to safety long enough to bicker amongst themselves. Although the brawl between Tom Noir and Dominic Atlas Hyde lacks the charm and fun of a Ben Grim and Johnny Storm squabble – it keeps the pace moving long enough for Kathryn Artemis and Dominic to debate John Horus' actions. Finally at the end of the third issue of the series – the characters actually start to discuss the political topics inherent in the series design.